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Someday My Printz Will Come
Inside Someday My Printz Will Come

Symphony for the City of the Dead

Symphony for the City of the Dead, M.T. Anderson
Candlewick Press, September 2015
Reviewed from ARC

One of my favorite books last year was Candace Fleming’s The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial RussiaDespite having a ton of critical praise for its tight, thrilling narrative and thoughtful approach to complex history, it didn’t manage to snag a Printz (although it did win lots of other great awards). Symphony for the City of the Dead is, in many ways, a wonderful sequel to Fleming’s book. M.T. Anderson begins Symphony with Dmitri Shostakovich’s childhood, just before the end of the Romanov reign and the rise of Lenin. For the first half of the book he alternates between chronicles of Shostakovich’s life and the political and social upheaval in Russia beginning with the Bolsheviks and the revolution straight into World War II. The siege of Leningrad and the composition of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7 are the main focus of the rest of the book. Anderson—a two-time Printz honoree—does very good work here but a few things in Symphony may keep the author from earning his third Printz.
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Illuminae

illuminaeIlluminae by Aime Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Knopf Books for Young Readers, October 2015
Reviewed from an ARC

So, confession time: I haven’t finished this book yet. I was originally scheduled for my usual Friday post, and I figured I’d have enough time to get to the last page and type up my thoughts in my usual efficient manner (ha). Only, as often happens, life got in the way, and now that my post is due, I’m writing my review, and I’m also still reading. Multi-tasking talents! I have them!

No, actually — not even a little. But what I can do is write up my impressions so far. Illuminae is (and here’s my rationalization for not having finished) a big book — 599 pages. It’s been awarded three stars since its publication in October, and lots of people are buzzing about it. [Read more…]

A Song for Ella Grey

book coverA Song for Ella Grey, David Almond
Delacorte Press, October 2015
Reviewed from ARC

Here’s a novel that is exactly what its title indicates it will be: a song for Ella Grey. David Almond’s lyrical novel—his third (!) to come out this year—is about the desperate first love of one’s youth that can inspire for a lifetime. The surprise of this song is that the singer isn’t Orpheus; it’s Claire, Ella’s best friend. It’s about love, obsession, magic, and loss. In a year when Almond already has a six-star novel, it’s not likely that Ella Grey could ever have been more than a dark horse contender unless the critical praise matched or exceeded its predecessor. More than that though, Ella Grey is strange and rare, a book that will leave readers in a daze trying to understand what they’ve just experienced.
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Sort of historical

I have just realized that we’ve reviewed a lot of historical fiction this year. Karyn was talking about a strong year for fantasy, but I’m over here impressed by historical fiction in 2015. Or our sort-of-historicals, as is the case for one of these.

This week, we’ve got two past winners, and both authors provide an important, engaging look at history. Both have no problem examining some of the, let’s be polite and say “less savory” aspects of US history. One, though, focuses on a real-life person, and the other works in elements of history to a fantasy/horror filled world. One book is short, one is very long. So similar, and yet so different! [Read more…]

A Thousand Praises for A Thousand Nights

a thousand nightsA Thousand Nights, E.K. Johnston
Hyperion, October 2015
Reviewed from ARC

I already told you this is a great year for fantasy, and I’m back to today to continue building the case.

And this is probably the one that most deserves the Printz, because for all the brilliance of The Scorpion Rules, the originality of Archivist Wasp, the many delights and flourishes of Bone Gap, this is the most literary of the year’s amazing genre bumper crop. It may also be the most overlooked and least buzzed of the bunch, making this a proper dark horse contender.

[Read more…]

Show and Prove

show proveShow and Prove by Sofia Quintero
Knopf Books for Young Readers, July 2015
Reviewed from a ARC

Karyn started out the week gushing about what a banner year for fantasy it is. I’m a little closer to Joy’s wavelength because I’ve got some (historical) realistic fiction to cover in this post. Joy also talked about SIGNIFICANCE (well, MESSAGE) in her post. I think that Quintero’s offering, while SIGNIFICANT, elegantly unites a specific setting and time period with a powerful coming of age story. Is that enough of a merit to name it as a contender, though? [Read more…]

All American Boys

All American Boys coverAll American Boys, Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, September 2015
Reviewed from final copy

My high school students will find that this novel hits very close to home. As residents of New York City, many of them joined and organized protests when grand juries decided not to indict the police officers involved in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. They staged a die-in. They educated their peers about what it feels like to be repeatedly stopped and frisked. For other young readers who have lived the reality of this novel, this may be a difficult read but it may also provide them the opportunity to discuss these problems through the lens of fictional characters in a fictional situation. All American Boys is a safe space for conversation about police brutality and racism in America. Its three stars are no surprise and well-deserved for this raw and emotionally honest book.

All that being said, as Karyn put so well in her review of All the Rage, I’m trying to resolve “the tension between what matters about this book and what matters for award season.”

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The Bunker Diary

bunkerThe Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks
Carolrhoda Lab/Penguin, March, 2015
Reviewed from a final copy

So way back a few weeks ago, Karyn mentioned that she found Tightrope Walkers too dark and oppressive to really sit with. I immediately began to wonder, what did I miss? Why didn’t the darkness affect me? Was I fooled by the book, to find hints of hope throughout, and find moments of compelling beauty in the darkness?

I’m pretty sure I found the book that answers my question. Did I miss too much? Nah, I’m good. This is a dark book. This is a book that pushes and prods and then slaps you around. It’s oppressive, it’s unrelenting, it’s brutal, and then it ends in despair. What I’m saying is, Tightrope Walkers was a walk on a riverbank in the springtime with birds chirping and woodland creatures frolicking, and this is…sure not. [Read more…]

Roundup: Countries in conflict

book coverbook cover

Black Dove, White Raven, Elizabeth Wein
Disney-Hyperion, March 2015
Reviewed from final copy

Hold Tight, Don’t Let Go, Laura Rose Wagner
Amulet Books, January 2015
Reviewed from final e-book

It’s a midweek roundup of books with commas in their titles. Okay, these two books are also about countries in the midst of crisis. Black Dove, White Raven is set in the years leading up to Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia in 1935. Hold Tight, Don’t Let Go presents more recent history—the immediate aftermath of the earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2010.
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All the Rage

A few thoughts.

One: I planned to cover two books tonight, linked by the fact that they both feature girls who have been harmed by their worlds but who won’t go down without a fight, and who both, through perseverance and pain, succeed. But it diminished both texts and I especially didn’t want to risk obscuring All the Rage, which is an important and powerful book.

Two: Sometimes the worst thing about reading with the kind of critical lens required for the Printz is that that level of scrutiny often ends up meaning we read books more than once. Admittedly, there are times when this is a gift. Rereading can be a luxury, allowing us to read for craft and detail rather than just to booktalk, and often a second read reveals new layers. On the flip side, there are also times when a close second read means we need to confront the things that are less than perfect about a book, taking a top book down a few pegs or leaving us (me) torn between a critical/blog charge and a personal and/or professional desire to promote powerful, meaningful books.

I’ve read All the Rage twice now, and I’m still struggling with the tension between what matters about this book and what matters for award season. [Read more…]